Non-Digital: Werewolf: the Apocalypse, an Appreciation

In the Nineties, there was a time when radical ecological activism was an entirely suitable subject for American children’s entertainment. The best example of this is the cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers. The spirit of the planet, Gaia, assembles a team who can combine into a superhero called Captain Planet who then stops”eco-villains” such as Verminous Skum and Dr. Blight.

Other examples are the G.I.Joe spin-off Eco-Warriors and togic sludge themed things like the Turtles and Toxic Avenger. The lesson of Captain Planet and Eco-Warriors is that it’s entirely acceptable to fight against polluters and ecological criminals with force.

That lesson seems to have faded from children’s tv shows as the global environmental situation has become worse. One of the ironies of pop culture is that now in the age of global warming when we really need him, Captain Planet is nowhere to be found.

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A Ron Spencer illustration from the 20th Anniversary Edition of Werewolf the Apocalypse showing a reasoned debate with the employees of the polluting corporation Pentex

In the Nineties, there was one place where the fight against pollution was taken to its logical extreme, and that was the gloriously insane roleplaying game Werewolf: the Apocalypse. Reading the game now, it seems incredible that this was actually published, and that it was a mainstream roleplaying game.

In Werewolf, using force to stop polluters was not only moral, but a holy mission.

In the core book, limiting yourself to standard character options, you can make a werewolf Neo-Nazi killing machine who’s goal in life is to mutilate as many fast food employees and oil company workers as possible. You see, in the world of Werewolf, people who work at environmentally damaging or irresponsible companies are often possessed by evil spirits serving a mythical force of corruption called the Wyrm. This way, the enemies have been conveniently dehumanized and can be subjected to ultraviolence without any moral problems.

The Neo-Nazis are one of Werewolf’s tribes. They are called Get of Fenris, and come from the Nordic countries.

Werewolf: the Apocalypse is a roleplaying game that combines ideas of eco-fascism and eco-terrorism into an action-oriented package all about the rage we should all feel at the destruction of our planet in the hands of greedy corporations. In Werewolf, your character will burst into the boardroom and tear the people responsible in half.

Eco-fascism is built into the very structure of Werewolf. It’s protagonists live in a spirit-guided world where evil is an absolute force and the tribal societies of the werewolves are essentially paramilitary groups organized in an apocalyptic war. Dehumanized enemies can be murdered at will, since the world is always better when they’re gone. Eco-terrorism is the practical implementation of this idea.

The characters are not going to chain themselves to trees to stop logging. They will murder the loggers to the last man. The loggers are possessed by evil spirits, so it’s fine.

In my experience, when people play Werewolf, it gets watered down. The characters are humanized. The skinhead qualities of the Get of Fenris get toned down. In a lot of the books as well as games I’ve seen, there’s a strong focus on the Umbra and the cosmological, spiritual ideas of the game. They’re cool too, but often end up overshadowing the essential core mission of the werewolf: To murder the despoilers of the land.

I think this does a tremendous disservice to a game that’s at its most singular when it’s at its most extreme. When it really is a game about eco-fascist werewolves perpetually on the verge of homicidal rage.

After all, the subject matter has only become more relevant with age. We can play Werewolf while we wait for Captain Planet to come back.

Non-Digital: The Visionary Worldbuilding of 2nd Edition AD&D

I started roleplaying with the Finnish edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and graduated to playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition as soon as I learned enough English to read the books.

While there’s been good and interesting stuff done in the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the game, for me the one true D&D will always be the 2nd edition. Not because of the rules, but because of the world.

TSR published a number of campaign settings in which the game could be played. Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Birthright, and so on. However, they were not content with just creating different fantasy worlds. They also created a unified superstructure into which all those worlds fit.

A thief hiding from a beholder in an asteroid belt. A typical scenario in the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

A thief hiding from a beholder in an asteroid belt. A typical scenario in the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

Crystal Spheres

In addition to the normal campaign settings published for AD&D 2nd Edition, TSR published two “meta-settings”. The first was Spelljammer, and the second Planescape.

Spelljammer is D&D in space. It presents a universe where solar systems are held in vast crystal spheres floating in a combustible substance called Phlogiston. Ships (I mean wooden sailing ships) could be fitted with a magical device called “The Spelljamming Helm” and used to travel to other planets as well as between the crystal spheres.

Best of all, all the normal campaign worlds were seen as parts of this overarching vision: You could fly your spaceship from the world of Forgotten Realms to the world of Dragonlance.

From this perspective, all the worlds of D&D were in fact the same world, sort of like the Marvel Universe of D&D. From the perspective of an individual campaign, it didn’t matter too much, but for a D&D geek like me, it was heady stuff.

A simplified diagram explaining the organization of the planes. This came with the Planescape Campaign Setting box.

A simplified diagram explaining the organization of the planes. This came with the Planescape Campaign Setting box.

Infinity

Other planes of existence had been a part of D&D from a pretty early stage, but they didn’t really come into their own until the introduction of Planescape. Like Spelljammer, Planescape connected existing worlds, this time through a structure of infinite planes composed of various moral or physical ideas.

The planar cosmology was pretty complicated. The crystal spheres composed a Prime Material Plane, which contained normal worlds. It was connected to the Inner Planes through the Ethereal Plane and the Outer Planes through the Astral Plane. The Inner Planes were organized around elemental ideas: fire, water, earth, air, life and death, as well as connecting planes, such as radiance or ash. The Outer Planes were moral, with Lawful Evil Baator and the Chaotic Neutral Limbo. The Outer Planes naturally had sublevels, which were also infinite.

In the center of the Outer Planes stood an infinitely tall mountain, and on top of the mountain floated the donut-shaped Sigil, City of Doors.

So by this point you could safely say that the world of D&D had grown pretty complicated.

A small smaple of the books you have to read to understand the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

A small sample of the books you have to read to understand the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

Back to Earth

In the Wizards of the Coast versions of D&D there’s been a clear shift away from all this towards a more grounded vision of the game. Published books have been more about stuff you can use in a normal fantasy campaign. Other planes of existence have been stunted and sheared into something like a spice or a topping you can use to flavor a game. They’re no longer the place where it all happens.

I understand why. All that stuff was crazy complicated, and appealed mostly to hardcore fans, at least if the sales numbers for Spelljammer and Planescape are anything to go by. The world had floated far beyond anything resembling the basic fantasy roots of D&D.

Still, I’ve never lost my love for the various infinities of the planes. When I first read Planescape, I thought it was the coolest thing ever published. Now, years later, I still appreciate the worldbuilding vision the designers of the 2nd edition had, where every place, from the Asteroid Belt to the City of Brass on the Plane of Fire, was a possible place of adventure.

Non-Digital: Becoming a Perfect Human

An in-game photo from the larp Täydellinen ihminen, by Tuomas Puikkonen

An in-game photo from the larp Täydellinen ihminen, by Tuomas Puikkonen

Recently, me, Jaakko Stenros and Tuomas Puikkonen did a larp called Täydellinen ihminen (The Perfect Human). The idea was to delve deep into the clean, bright world of office stock photos. For a few hours, our participants would become these happy, smiling, efficient and joyful people. They would embody a certain type of corporate dream.

Me and Jaakko did the design, and Tuomas handled the photography. It was an unusual larp project in the sense that the photos were an integral part of the experience, instead of just documentation. After being a perfect human, the participants could then see themselves in actual photos, permanently part of that world.

The game was played in Helsinki on the 20th of September, 2015. Jaakko wrote a few personal reflections about the game here, and the full set of Tuomas’s wonderful photos is here.

That's me sitting in the center left, playing a client. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

That’s me sitting in the center left, playing a client. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The game was about an ordinary Monday at the consulting firm Creative Solutions. The characters all worked there, and were thrilled to be back at work after the weekend. During the day, they met three clients (one about bottled water, the city of Salo and the Guggenheim) and had several internal meetings. That was it: No twist, no surprises, no drama.

One of the ideas behind the game was the concept of “the Soviet man”, the perfect communist citizen. A popular idea in the Soviet Union, this ideal also revealed the problems inherent in the system. The ideal human is not what we have. We just have ordinary humans.

For Täydellinen ihminen, corporate stock photos replace the paintings and statues of Socialist Realism. Instead of the noble, strong factory worker, we have the happy, innovative consultant. The perfect human of the larp is just one of the ideals we live with in today’s society. Another ideal of capitalism is a super-competitive individualist motivated by greed, but we chose to focus on creating the world as it appears in the photos. A place where teamwork and positivity are the most important qualities. This meant that in the workplace of Creative Solutions, everyone collaborated on everything, and always gave positive feedback. Meetings made the characters happy. The team was everything.

This is the magic of innovation in action! Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

This is the magic of innovation in action! Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

I understood the idea of using larp to generate a certain kind of visual surface after I participated in the Brody Condon larp and video project The Zeigarnik Effect in June 2015. In this, as well as earlier pieces by the same artist, larp and video have complemented each other. A larp has certain qualities that are hard to achieve otherwise, and those qualities can be captured on video, or in photos. I knew the idea, but really only realized the potential after having experienced it myself.

In Täydellinen ihminen, game design and visual design came together in the physical play style we workshopped together before the start of the game. In office stock photos, people are happy. They smile. They stand very close to each other. They touch.

In stock photos, people are close, and they're physical. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

In stock photos, people are close, and they’re physical. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The idea was that practising these modes of being beforehand would produce the right kind of images, but also generate a certain atmosphere for the game. We forbade all subtext, hidden agendas, sex, and other distractions to focus on the game’s dream of happy, corporate efficiency and teamwork. This also made it easier for the participants to be casually physical.

Tuomas didn’t play a character and the participants were instructed to ignore the photographer, but it’s clear his presence had an impact on the in-game dynamics. When I was in the game playing a supportive character, I noticed myself and others behaving as if they were on camera even when Tuomas was not in the room. It became part of the physical, bodily language of the game.

The smile has to reach the eyes. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The smile has to reach the eyes. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

So what does it mean to play a larp and become one of the perfect humans? I played a few supporting roles, so I’m perhaps the wrong person to explain what the experience was all about. That’s best left to actual participants.

At one point, I played a normal, non-perfect municipal representative, and it felt overwhelming to be subjected to the team’s energy. I felt like a hick who had come to the big town.

Non-Digital: Seven Larps, Seven Countries

Alexander Norppa, the CEO of Norppa Industries, is holding a private preliminary high-level meeting before the start of the actual summit. Photo: Harmke Heezen

Alexander Norppa, the CEO of Norppa Industries, is holding a private preliminary high-level meeting before the start of the actual summit. Photo: Harmke Heezen

One of the great things about larp is that it’s such a young medium, we can do things for the first time. Exploring new frontiers of larp is easy since there’s so much that hasn’t been done yet.

I worked on the Baltic Warriors project as a larp producer this summer. We did a tour of seven countries, and ran seven larps with a loosely continuous story. The tour culminated in Helsinki this weekend with the finale, longer and bigger than the previous games.

Summit participants discuss the issues on the way to the gala dinner, unaware of the impeding zombie attack. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Summit participants discuss the issues on the way to the gala dinner, unaware of the impeding zombie attack. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Our creative producer Mike Pohjola likes to say that this has been the most international larp campaign in history, and he might well be right. I don’t really know of any others that would have reached seven countries. We also had participants from something like 16 countries. The core team worked from Germany, Finland and Sweden.

Baltic Warriors was a political game about eutrophication in the Baltic Sea. In the Helsinki game, a summit meeting about the future of the Baltic Sea, the political aspect was realized with perhaps the greatest nuance. We also learned a lot about playing in public and playing privately, and how that affects the larp dynamics with both first-timers and experienced larpers.

The zombie action was realized in partnership with the Zero Hour zombie festival. Photo: Sigrid Reede

The zombie action was realized in partnership with the Zero Hour zombie festival. Photo: Sigrid Reede

One of the things I’m happiest about in this project is the number of first time players who participated. In some games, like in Kiel, Germany, it was over two-thirds of all players, but the Helsinki game had a lot of first-timers too. Before the game, I was worried whether it was a good idea to throw novice larpers into an unguided city game where you’re supposed to direct your own experience to a large extent, but this worry proved unfounded. Indeed, the naturalism and heightened privacy of this style of larping may have made it easier for first-timers than our previous games.

One reason we were disposed to attract first-timers was probably the anomalous production structure of Baltic Warriors. Produced by the German company Kinomaton Berlin and Goethe-Institut Finnland, the initial impulse to do all of this came from outside the larp scene. I have never worked with institutions who were as motivated to do good larp as we had this time.

A debrief discussion held after the game was over at the Goethe-Institut. Photo: Sigrid Reede

A debrief discussion held after the game was over at the Goethe-Institut. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Non-Digital: How to Create a Nasty Society

Last week, I wrote about the differences between Vampire: the Masquerade’s “game of personal horror” and the game I run, Verikartta, in which the horror has a more communal bent. The core of the matter is that for the vampires in the game, this is the only community they will ever have, so like it or not, they have to live in it.

Here are some of the ways that I used to create a nasty society:

Other Victims

The worst off are never the player characters. Indeed, people can be quite nice to the player characters, and lift them up while others are pushed down. This way, the players don’t have to experience the situation as an “us vs. the elite” situation, but instead get a broader view. They may even feel the seductive pull of joining the elite.

All photos and illustrations I use in the game are from books or off the internet. I plead private use...

All photos and illustrations I use in the game are from books or off the internet. I plead private use…

Complicated Schemes

Vampire schemes are complicated and follow their own logic. Obvious plots can’t be done because others will see through them.

For example, revenge can never target the person who actually slighted you. Instead, you must attack someone completely different, for example a protege or even someone completely unconnected who you then direct to have their own revenge against your initial opponent.

If you want to act against someone, the first step can be to go into their debt. When you owe something to them, you get closer and can then act in new ways.

Often I’ve found it useful to have supporting characters explain the schemes if they get too weird. “Obviously, this invitation cannot be a trap, because that would be obvious. Unless it’s a double-bluff, and is a trap after all…”

Counter-intuitive tactics like these make vampire plans seem baroque enough to give the feeling that people engage in them for their own sake. In-game, many of the people who do this are themselves cheerfully confused about what’s happening. The value here is aesthetic.

Violence is Embarrassing

Physical violence is a sign of weakness. It only makes sense if the victim is significantly weaker than the perpetrator. As a move in the games vampires play, physical violence is the choice of the unimaginative.

As a corollary, almost all vampires are cowards. If the situation seems to imply physical violence, they will simply not be there.

Cruelty is Fun

I read a very good book about comedy in 18th century Britain that has shaped the way I built vampire society to a great extent. Called Cruelty and Laughter, by Simon Dickie, it’s a masterclass in asshole amusements. The basic unit of comedy is cruelty, and here are some of the things that folks in 18th centuy Britain felt were simply hilarious: Beating cripples. Rape trials. Stealing from the poor.

With this in mind, in vampire society those of similar power and influence play games with each other, but with their inferiors, they simply fuck with them for fun.

What could be more funny than humiliating a Malkavian in front of all her peers or making a Nosferatu think he might have a chance with a Toreador ingenue? The key here is that these vampires don’t do these things to benefit from it, but simply for fun. Always attack the weak.

Player characters can be horrified at all this, but they also have to come up with strategies to live in this environment. In Verikartta, I had one or two older vampires who found the behavior of their peers barbaric, but this display of morality also made them outsiders in a small community.

Good Nosferatu pictures are hard to find. This one is from a Vampire book.

Good Nosferatu pictures are hard to find. This one is from a Vampire book.

Heightened Class Divisions

Vampire: the Masquerade, like many roleplaying games, is designed from the perspective of game balance. Ideally, playing any of its character types will result in equally interesting roleplaying game experiences.

I deviated from this by heightening the class divisions in vampire society. The Ventrue are the undisputed masters of this world. Even the scummiest Ventrue is still a Ventrue, and therefore part of an inside club.

The next tier is the Toreador, Gangrel and Brujah, vampire clans with their own societies and agendas, forming the “standard” level of being a vampire. The Brujah are the “loyal opposition”, who in reality keep the system going. Traditionally, every Ventrue prince has a secret Brujah lover. Below them are the two broken clans, Nosferatu and Malkavian, as well as the Tremere.

The Nosferatu are excluded because they’re ugly. For them, living as a vampire is difficult, they have to live in sewers and derelict buildings, and unless they travel with their peers, a Brujah can decide to beat one up just for fun.

The Malkavians are rare, feared and distrusted because they’re mad. A good way for a new prince to seem tough is to start a pogrom against the Malkavians.

The Tremere are powerful in a physical sense, but weak politically. They’re hard to victimize and don’t have to suffer from the humiliations the Nosferatu and the Malkavians live with, but have still been shut out of the political elites. They’re considered upstarts, and somewhat vulgar.

Vampire books are a good source of character illustrations.

Vampire books are a good source of character illustrations.

Attack Your Fans

If someone looks up to you, that person can be hurt. What could be funnier?

My favorite trick in this vein came from Marcel Proust’s book series In Search of Lost Time. There’s a lot of upper class cruelty in those novels, and Proust is very good at explaining the mechanics of how it works.

In this scene, the two important characters are both Ventrue. Lady Victoria Dynevor runs the most established Elysium in the city. Violetta Vidal is a much younger vampire who essentially wants to be Lady Victoria one day.

Lady Victoria runs a salon every Wednesday, “just for a few select friends so we talk talk freely without the bother of a big party”. Violetta has copied this and started her own salon, where she invites younger vampires she thinks are interesting. Violetta also invites Lady Victoria, but it’s assumed she won’t come. She has to be invited because to do otherwise would be an insult.

You might think that it would be a boon for Violetta if Lady Victoria indeed would show up, and conventionally this would be so. If Lady Victoria decides to come to Violetta’s salon, she can expect for this to be seen as a magnanimous act.

However, and this was why this is a great asshole move, when she shows up, she also destroys Violetta’s salon. Because of the differences in status, when Lady Victoria shows up, she will be the only focus of attention for as long as she’s present. She will suck the air out of the room and force everyone to cater to her, and the best part is that she doesn’t really have to do anything to make this happen. It’s an automatic function of the way status works in this kind of social environment.

Then she leaves, and Violetta’s other guests leave soon afterwards. Next time Violetta holds her salon, the only reason anyone is going to be there is in the hopes that Lady Victoria might appear. When she doesn’t, they’ll quickly leave. Violetta’s hope of having pleasant conversations in good company are dashed until she acquires enough social capital to make moves of her own.

Let Age Show

Older vampires have lived in their little bubble for a very long time. They all know each other. Everyone has dated everyone, everyone has fucked everyone.

When new people show up, they’re a source of intense interest. Older vampires flock to younger vampires because they’re new and interesting.

This shows most of all in romantic plots. For an older vampire, a romance with a younger vampire is all about using that person for entertainment until there’s nothing left. Then the younger vampire is discarded. For the younger vampire, there’s still a possibility of getting something out of this, because while it lasts, they can try to play the game too. The more fucked up and weird the relationship is, the longer the old vampire maintains interest.

Here it’s best to have the older vampires approach these romantic games not from a position of strength, but from a position of weakness. For them, there are toadies everywhere, and that’s boring. Since their supernatural power is absolute, they can comfortably be vulnerable in a romantic context.

This way, an older vampire doesn’t seduce someone. He maneuvers things so that a younger vampire seduces him.

Normalize Corruption

It vampire society, corruption is so normal it doesn’t really make sense to call it corruption. Everyone with a Camarilla office such as prince or primogen uses it for personal gain all the time. Mixing business and personal is also normal, and abuses of power can be done for the most trivial reasons, such as amusement.

Chelsea Wolfe is a wonderful artist, and pretty much all photos of her work as Vampire characters.

Chelsea Wolfe is a wonderful artist, and pretty much all photos of her work as Vampire characters.

Horror

In a game like Verikartta, the horror comes from the reality of living in this kind of society. It’s a subtle horror, and the characters can be very successful. The questions are, do they go with the flow and become upper class predators themselves, or do they try to hold on to some kind of decency in a society that doesn’t really put much value on it?

The thing that makes this really work is to have 90% of the inhabitants of the community essentially accept the system. Both the downtrodden and the powerful characters appearing in the game are trying to live within the limits. The last 10% consists of weak vampires who oppose the system and get crushed, and powerful vampires who criticize the system and are doomed to a life of loneliness.

Non-Digital: The Horror of Other People

I’ve been running a game based on Vampire: the Masquerade these past few years, and when I started it, I realized I had to adapt it quite a lot to make it work for me.

I’ve run three versions of my campaign Verikartta, and characters from each game have visited the others. All are set in London, but approach the vampire society from different angles. In Verikartta A, the characters were made into vampires by important high-society vampires. In B, they were illegal vampires created in random and chaotic circumstances by criminals and losers. C, still running, is the Sabbat game, and distinctly different from the other two.

Lately, I’ve been doing something I probably should have done a decade ago, which is to read Vampire: the Requiem. It’s been interesting to see how they modified the game and compare it to what I have done.

Every supporting character gets a slide. As for the pictures, stolen off the internet, I plead private use.

In Verikartta, every supporting character gets a slide. As for the pictures, stolen off the internet, I plead private use.

Some changes are identical: In Requiem, they’ve injected the world with mystery, so instead of ancient vampires with superior knowledge of the world, we have ancient but delusional monsters who can’t separate their fantasies from real memories. Masquerade’s overarching explanations have been replaced by local mythologies.

One of the more crippling features of Masquerade is the static nature of its vampire societies, especially if you play a young vampire. In Requiem, age is not necessarily power and it’s possible for young vampires to do important things. Masquerade’s Eternal Vampire World Government has been replaced by various local situations.

Reading the book also makes it obvious to me that the Requiem and the Masquerade are very specific vampire roleplaying games, with their own themes and approaches. In Requiem, the idea of “a game of personal horror” has been brought to the fore even more strongly than in the Masquerade, and the anti-social, miserable horror of being a vampire is heightened. The inner conflicts core to the game are rigidly controlled by game mechanics, even more so than in the previous game.

My version grew sort of organically, partly designed and partly improvised, but reading this book makes me think I diverged more than I realized, especially on the core themes.

For big group events, I make a slide with the faces and names of all supporting characters present so players can know at a glance who's there.

For big group scenes, I make a slide with the faces and names of all supporting characters present so players can know at a glance who’s there.

In my version, it’s not really a “storytelling game of personal horror” at all. There’s horror to be sure, and I’m struggling to describe how it works. Maybe the “game of communal horror”? In the sense that the horrors of the world mostly make themselves manifest in the way the supernatural communities work, and how that affects individuals. All vampires play games, and the characters have to play too unless they want to be overrun. Issues of social class govern interactions both inside vampire society, and between vampires and other supernatural creatures.

When I started the game, I decided to chuck the personality rules such as Nature, Demeanor, Humanity, Virtues, the Beast, etc. out the window. Being a vampire is essentially really cool in a simple, physical sense. Requiem makes being a vampire seem like a real struggle, and I ran games like that when I originally played Vampire in the Nineties. This time, I wanted to see what would happen if being a vampire was essentially a wonderful, privileged state, especially if you let go of your morals. Almost everyone around you already has.

Non-Digital: Old School Fringe

One of my pet themes recently has been how ideas in tabletop roleplaying spread, or fail to reach anyone outside a small, limited scene. Some movements have been quite successful at reaching wider audiences. The American Story Games scene is one of these, and the Danish Fastaval scene another.

A third one is the OSR, or Old School Revolution scene. Based on going back to the ideas presented in the very first roleplaying games published by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, OSR games have benefited from a lively stream of published material. You can get into it by reading book and booklets.

Finland is home to the OSR powerhouse Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but it’s not the only game in town. So to speak.

dragon union

Dragon Union is the English translation of the Finnish publication Lohikäärmeliitto. It, and a couple of other Finnish-made English-language OSR things are available from D-oom Products.

It’s a set of rules to be used on top of the classic OSR base games derived from the original D&D. It keeps the traditional set-up of the GM, the fantasy milieu and the combat rules, but adds what seems like Story Games DNA by changing the function of the character classes. These determine the story and the events to a greater degree, and create a system for managing the flow of combat. A class such as “Fighter” has not only abilities, but a function in terms of roleplaying group dynamics.

Some of the ideas are quite nifty, especially for games that use traditional concepts such as character classes and experience levels. As a bonus, the booklet has a fun fanzine feel, something it shares with the other D-oom Products publications.

mead mayhem

The particular copy of Mead & Mayhen I have is a test print made by the publisher, something the collector in me greatly approves. It’s basically a big table for creating an eventful bar fight.

One of the things I like in OSR is the reckless energy you get when everything is lethal and bizarre story complications can arise through random chance. Mead & Mayhem delivers on that theme.

temple of greed

Temple of Greed is a dungeon adventure built entirely around traps, puzzles and the concept of greed. A relevant subject in the times we live in. The adventure is supplemented by a variant on the cleric character class that looks like what would happen if Ayn Rand started designing roleplaying games. I mean that in a nice way.

I have never played many OSR games myself, but publishing stuff is key to making people aware of what you’re doing and why. That’s why I appreciate the fringe these booklets represent.

Non-Digital: Larping in the Middle of a Demonstration

Our venue for Baltic Warriors Copenhagen was the square in front of the parliament building, Christiansborg. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Our venue for Baltic Warriors Copenhagen was the square in front of the parliament building, Christiansborg. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Some people do larps in highly controlled environments such as the “Black Box”, a featureless room with lights that can act as the abstract stage for any larp scene. In these games, the players can enjoy freedom from the distractions of the world and the organizers have maximum control over what happens in the game space.

Last Saturday, we did the fifth game in this summer’s Baltic Warriors series of eco larps in Copenhagen in conditions that are pretty much the opposite of that. Our game was held at the square in front of Denmark’s parliament building Christiansborg. Sharing the square with us was a demonstration against the war in Iraq, and a counter-demonstration that was also against the war but with a different political analysis.

In the photo above, you can see the anarchist counter-demonstrators.

Participants in the middle of the game. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Participants in the middle of the game. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

As in every Baltic Warriors game, the characters were lobbyists, activists and politicians debating an issue related to the dead zones in the Baltic Sea caused by eutrophication. Every game has been about politics, but this time the politics was a little more tangible than usual, given the non-fictional political action going on all around us.

In each Baltic Warriors game, we have a local producer or producers helping us make the game. This time, we worked with the Danish company Rollespilsakademiet, and they had the necessary logistical resources to build us the tents, the benches and the tables that defined our play area.

This time, we had an unusually high number of dog participants. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

As an organizer, doing a larp in this kind of environment means that you have to make peace with the fact that anything can happen. We had wildly different estimates about the size of the demonstrations. Some said there’s be thousands of people, while others had lower numbers. We were afraid that a big demonstration would swamp us, and if a demonstration went bad, there would be further safety issues.

The way it happened, the demonstration was of a manageable size, so none of our worst-case scenarios were realized. There were no obvious cops. A lot of people stopped by to see what we were doing (or to steal our coffee). For a political game, this is of course a good thing, but it also meant that this game wasn’t about fragile intimacies.

This is what happens when you leave your guard posts unattended. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

This is what happens when you leave your guard posts unattended. Photo: Juhana Pettersson

Doing an aggressively public larp like this raises many interesting questions that can be explored further. What are the ethics of sharing a public space with another political event? Can this be used deliberately, as a central part of the larp design? What kind of new social spaces can be incorporated into a larp experience?

Our larp design was merely adapted to the venue we had, but perhaps in the future, we’ll see interesting new works that make these questions the thrust of the game.

Non-Digital: What’s a Roleplaying Game Book?

The things we call “roleplaying games” are books that tell you how to play and run actual roleplaying games. The game is what happens when you sit down with the other players and play.

I’m writing one of these books. Chernobyl mon amour (Tšernobyl, rakastettuni in Finnish) is a roleplaying game about love and radioactivity, set in the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation.

The Sarkophagus, a concrete container built over the reactor destroyed in the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

The Sarkophagus, a concrete container built over the reactor destroyed in the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

I’ve published one of these things before, Valley of Eternity, the game of epic penguin tragedy. However, that game was more traditional in form, so I could just do a book the way they’re usually done. However, with Chernobyl mon amour, my goal is to do a game that articulates the play culture that I live in, instead of adapting ideas to more generally understandable forms.

This has forced me to ask a simple question: What’s in a roleplaying game book? What does this book contain and what’s its purpose? What does it do?

The way I decided to answer this question for myself was this:

A roleplaying game is about experiencing the life of a character within a certain framework. The game book should provide three things.

1 – Instruction on how to play, how to be the character, and how to calibrate the experience so it works well for everyone.

2 – Instruction on how to run a game as the game master. How to make a good, interesting roleplaying game work.

3 – Provide fodder for the experiences the game is made of. An interesting setting, something beyond what the participants would be able to improvise on the spot. Details of scenes, supporting characters, locations, traditions, and other things the participants can use to make their game more particular and interesting.

Number three provides the fuel for numbers one and two.

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The cover of D. Vincent Baker’s roleplaying game Apocalypse World.

Other designers have answered this question very differently. D. Vincent Baker’s game Apocalypse World has numbers one and two, but no number three. It’s instruction has been codified into rules mechanics, and the book is essentially about how those rules mechanics work.

The Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide for various editions of D&D tend to be very weak on setting material as well, but with these games, we’re assumed to get the details of the setting separately. As books, they follow different ideas of organizing material than one-book games.

The book for Vampire: the Requiem is mostly about explaining it’s particular take on the idea of vampires. Since the game’s concept of vampires is very specific, explaining how it works takes a lot of space. Things like customs and social organization are explained in straight prose, while ideas related to conflict and what characters can do are codified into rules.

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The cover of my roleplaying game Valley of Eternity.

This is the model I followed with Valley of Eternity. It explains the basics of how to play and how to run a game, but most of the book is about explaining the game’s specific take on penguins and the world they live in. It too employed rules mechanics for handling some parts of the game experience.

A jar in the ruins of a laboratory experimenting on fish in the Zone of Alienation. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

Jars in the ruins of a laboratory experimenting on fish in the Zone of Alienation. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

Writing my new game, the comparison to Apocalypse World is striking in the sense that while both are “roleplaying game books”, they share almost no content of similar description. Of course, if you want to be philosophical, there are many parallels in terms of function, but in terms of what you see on a page they’re different.

Non-Digital: Expressing Play Culture (Also: Chernobyl)

I’ve been writing and designing a tabletop roleplaying game called Chernobyl mon amour for some years now. I started soon after visiting the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation myself in 2010. It’s taken a lot of time to consider some of the ideas in the game, and a core reason for this is that I’m trying to reflect the play culture I’ve marinated in for the last 25 years.

The game will be about love and radioactivity. I hope to have it published late this year or early next year, first in Finnish and then in English.

I have the feeling that none of the established, published roleplaying design philosophies really do what I want them to do, so to be able to write the game, I have to learn to express things that have grown organically in our local game culture. This is not simple.

The ferris wheel in Pripyat is one of the more famous landmarks of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

The ferris wheel in Pripyat is one of the more famous landmarks of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

Originally, Chernobyl mon amour (or Tšernobyl, rakastettuni in Finnish) was going to be more conventional, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that to be understood, it would have to contain some pretty elementary stuff. Things about our culture that are obvious to me, but not to roleplayers who haven’t played in these games.

(Please note that the “we” and the “our” in this text refer to the narrow and specific environment in which I normally play tabletop games in Helsinki, Finland.)

With this in mind, here are some principles I’ve been thinking about:

Character immersion. This is at the core of what we do. You immerse emotionally into your character. You experience the game through this character. You experience happiness, sadness, love and anger through your character. You may take metagame factors into account as you play, but emotionally you’re in there, immersed in the character’s perspective.

Life, not story. The goal of the game is to create a lived experience. Things happen to your character the same way they happen to you, except more condensed and probably more exciting. The players are not making a story, they’re experiencing things through their characters. Stories are made of what happened in the game, the same way stories are made from what happens in real life. Stories are the residue of game and life both.

Fiction, yet real. A roleplaying game is obviously fiction. I’m not my character and the events of the game don’t really happen. We’re just a bunch of folks in a room, talking. Yet looking at it from a different perespective, they do happen. They are real. When I play through a date, I have experienced a date, even if it was a fictional date. I have really experienced a fictional experience. Game events are fictional things that happen to me, through the character.

The Chernobyl power plant can be seen in the distance. Photo taken from the roof of a Pripyat apartment building. Photo by Juhana & Maria Pettersson.

The Chernobyl power plant can be seen in the distance. Photo taken from the roof of a Pripyat apartment building. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

These principles have implications that further shape the way the game is played and created:

The idea of creating a lived experience works best if the metagame aspects of the game are mostly kept in the hands of a game master. I’m not a puritan: Some game mechanical stuff might be fun, and sometimes the players can appropriate some game master control.

Long campaigns running for ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred games work better than short stuff, because life is meandering and there needs to be space for improvisation. The structure cannot be ironclad.

Both the principles of immersion and being real mean that social stuff works very, very well as game content. High-resolution social encounters are some of the most satisfying and fun things to play within this framework.

Other principles might be:

Privacy is freedom. These games are tailored for the specific people who play in them. We are responsible for the people who are in the room, and create things for each other. The fact that a tabletop game is private means that we can create with a freedom that’s impossible in the context collapse -rich environment of the internet or any publicly released media.

Difficulty is strength. While my experience has been that everyone can learn to play like this, good, committed and motivated players are what really makes a game sing. The game demands a lot from the game master. She doesn’t just run the game; she has to be an auteur. She needs a vision.

In the ruins of a cafe. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

In the ruins of a cafe. Photo: Juhana & Maria Pettersson

So far, trying to write a game book according to this kind of thinking has been all about analyzing what we do when we play. I’ve tried to codify ideas ranging from how games are constructed to what we eat. The last time I seriously tried this was in my 2005 book Roolipelimanifesti. It’s a guidebook about how to run roleplaying games, and includes a scenario or a game of sorts called Joutomaa (Wasteland).

Please note that this kind of roleplaying is agnostic when it comes to genre or style. I’ve run and played in very different kinds of games that together formed this set of ideas, from superheroes to kitchen sink realism. One obvious feature of most of these games has been the use of extremely light or non-existent game mechanics, because rules systems in the style of D&D, Vampire: the Masquerade or Apocalypse World distract from the immediacy of the game. Perhaps that’s another principle: The system must be invisible.

We’ll see how this works when trying to express a specific design instead of general guidelines.  I will also update and refine the ideas presented in this post and probably publish something less tentative once my thinking has been clarified by discussion.

Non-Digital: New People at Baltic Warriors Kiel

Last Saturday, we ran the Kiel game of our Baltic Warriors campaign which tours the countries around the Baltic Sea this summer. Kiel is a small coastal city in northern Germany, close to Hamburg.

The larps have a story continuing from game to game. They are set as close to their real-life venues as possible, and feature environmental conferences about local issues. And that worst of all effects of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, zombies.

Our venue was the Kiel Kunsthalle.

We’ve always wanted to have both larpers and newcomers as participants in the Baltic Warriors games. I believe that our games are a good choice for those who are interested in larp but shy away from traditional larp themes and genres. If our games manage to spread the joy of larp to new people, that’s a wonderful thing.

However, I also believe newcomers are good for the game. They bring an energy and a perspective that cuts into the core of why larp is so fun and interesting and shake established practices, forcing us to question why we do things a certain way.

Characters trying to find out how to complete the anti-zombie ritual.

In previous Baltic Warriors games, the newcomers have been a minority, but in Kiel, two thirds of our players were participating in their first larp.

Some of them were in their twenties, others over sixty. A few had been specifically invited by us, while others were intersted in larp, Nordic Larp specifically, or had heard of the project in the local or national media. Our benefactors at the Goethe-Institut were responsible for some of the more important ones.

Larp inside art.

Larp inside art.

The Baltic Warriors games we run have similar templates, but vary according to local conditions. This was especially obvious in Kiel, where both our wonderful venue of the Kiel Kunsthalle and the unusual participant composition meant that the game would run differently.

It’s probably no surprise that as an organizer, this has an energizing effect. We added features such as the in-game art tour and tried to stay on top of the chaos of different languages and experiences.

First-time participants deep in the game.

First-time participants deep in the game.

Having players who have larped before brings a kind of “herd competence” to the game: If enough players know how to do it, the rest will pick it up. When the percentage of larpers goes down, chaos increases, but as an organizer I had the feeling that after doing Baltic Warriors in Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Sopot, a little chaos doesn’t faze us.

Non-Digital: Beach Larp Manifesto

Today, we played the third of this summer’s seven Baltic Warriors eco zombie larps in Sopot, Poland. Finding a good venue for the serious political discussion and the even more serious zombie action proved to be difficult, but we found a wonderful host in a place called Klub Atelier, a venue in a beach theatre.

Since the weather was good, we held the game itself on the beach. This proved to be a very good choice: The presence of the Baltic Sea was palpable every moment of the game, a very important feature considering the themes and aims of Baltic Warriors in general. It’s easy to ignore the problems of the Baltic Sea when it’s out of sight and out of mind, but it’s something different when it’s right there.

Setting up the scene for the larp.

Setting up the scene for the larp.

Doing a larp on a beach made me ask a very obvious question:

Why are beach larps so rare? Why don’t we larp on beaches all the time? Why can’t we have fun in the sun?

This prompted me to write this manifesto in favor of beach larp, a phenomenon I foresee will take the larp world by storm in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 before it becomes mainstream and attains global success and recognition as the primary beach activity of our species by the end of the decade.

The politicians, lobbyists and activists come to discuss environmental issues.

The politicians, lobbyists and activists come to discuss environmental issues.

Beach larp is:

1 – On a beach.

2 – Features an intimate thematic link to the water.

3 – Goes beyond the mere superficialities of fun, and becomes a profound participatory experience combining serious questions about our role in the world with being on a  beach.

4 – For players ready to take the experience seriously and dedicate themselves to fulfilling it. Or have been forced to participate by their employers. One of the two.

5 – Conflates surface and content by accepting the fact that larp is public. You don’t go to the beach to not be seen, and the same goes for beach larp. The larp experience becomes complete in the confused Tweet of a stranger. Or a spot done by local television.

6 – For romance. Our beach larp ended with a woman proposing to her pregnant lover.

Viking zombies crawling out of the Baltic Sea.

Viking zombies crawling out of the Baltic Sea.

7 – For tragedy. The lover said no.

8 – Engaging with the public. Beach larp is not insulated. Beach larp takes interventions by outsiders in stride. In our case, in the form of a zombie attack on schoolchildren.

9 – For emergence and coincidence. Anything can happen in a beach larp. The larp incorporates coincidence. Whether military helicopters or a sailing ship, everything becomes part of beach larp.

10 – For meeting larpers and non-larpers, the young and the old, friends and strangers. Everyone is one on the beach.

Join the beach larp revolution now!

Non-Digital: The Joy of the Zeigarnik Effect

I’m standing in front of a wall. It’s made of wood, painted white. There are two black, small holes, probably made by nails, at my eye level. I run my hand along the surface of the white paint. I’m in the present, aware of what’s right in front of me.

I’m playing in a larp called The Zeigarnik Effect, run in Moss in Norway 11th – 13th of June, 2015 as part of the Momentum biennial of contemporary art. Created by the artist Brody Condon, The Zeigarnik Effect consists of two complementary but separate pieces, the larp and a video installation based on material recorded in the larp. During the opening of Momentum, the camera feeds from the larp are displayed live at the installation.

A banner advertising Momentum in downtown Moss.

A banner advertising Momentum in downtown Moss.

The voice tells me, tells all of us to move our focus to the other people in the room. I turn around and face the room. I see the other participants. I look at their faces. I look at their eyes. I’m aware of their presence. I’m in the moment.

One of the core inspirations of The Zeigarnik Effect is the Gestalt therapy of the German psychotherapist Fritz Perls. Being in the moment, being present, is one of the ideas that makes Gestalt therapy so interesting to experience. We play loose characters that consist of motivations for being in therapy, and little else. The specific rituals of Gestalt mean that although everyone in the group is in close, constant interaction with everyone else, we don’t really need anything very elaborate in terms of larp fiction. I have little else than the simple motivation granted to me by my imagined affliction, and it sufficed.

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The installation after the first day of larp, before the exhibition opens the next day.

The voice is telling me to focus on my body. I feel the cramping in my back, the itching in my scalp and the anxiety in my fingers created by the condition I came up with: The fear of losing sensation in my hands and feet.

When we’re not doing mental and social excercises designed to bring us into the present moment, we’re working on someone. The language of Gestalt foregrounds the experiential, meaning that when we describe dreams, it sounds like this: “I’m experiencing remembering standing on a brown granual surface. It’s dark. I feel the heat on my face.” And so forth.

The ideas of Gestalt therapy, combined with the game design features designed by Condon with Nina Runa Essendrop, create a series of extremely intense, socially high-resolution interactions that are sometimes joyful and always interesting. A particular favorite is an excercise in which half the group moves eyes closed and the other half guides them, forcefully or with only a light touch.

In another interesting excercise, one participant asks the question “What do you want?” over and over again, and the other tries to answer. When I do this, I end up tearing my partner’s t-shirt into two. When it’s his turn to answer, he hits me in the face.

The first day is intimate and personal. The second day, animosities come to the surface.

The first day is intimate and personal. The second day, animosities come to the surface.

Playing The Zeigarnik Effect feels like someone has constructed an experimental language of larp, something honed and perfected in earlier prototypes until it runs smoothly and efficiently. Everything is simple, but I’m aware that to reach this level of simplicity, a great deal effort and trial and error is necessary.

The documentation required by the video installation is rigorous and thorough. Implemented by Paul Shin, the set-up includes wireless microphones on every participant and two cameramen who move in the game space, capturing emotions in close up.

During the game, sound goes live from the microphone on each player to the video installation in the exhibition space.

During the game, sound goes live from the microphone on each player to the video installation in the exhibition space.

Visiting the installation space, it’s obvious that this strategy really pays off. Capturing the visual surface of larp has rarely been done to such powerful effect as here, and the key is making sure that the camera is always right there, zeroing in on the face of someone who is not performing.

Non-Digital: Baltic Warriors in St. Petersburg

Last Saturday, 6th of June, the second Baltic Warriors game of summer 2015 was played in St. Petersburg. I’m working on the project as a larp producer, and it’s surprisingly strange to make a game that’s being run in a language I don’t understand, in this case Russian. Others have done this before me, but now was my first time.

Thankfully, the game seemed to be a success.

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(Members of the crew in front of the venue, the art space Taiga on the shore of the Neva river in St. Petersburg)

Each Baltic Warriors game has a similar design and structure, but we’ve learned that local variation will always play a part. The St. Petersburg game was our most aggressively localized one, with character and game design elements adapted so they’d make sense. We also had to provide all material in Russian to make sure all players can comfortably engage with it.

In each country, we have a local producer who’s job it is to do this localization, in addition to practical organizing. In Russia, we had Olga Vorobyeva, who did a wonderful job. We also had significant help from the local Goethe Institute. The Goethe Institute makes the project financially possible, but in St. Petersburg they went above and beyond in terms of practical work.

(Participants workshopping before the game starts)

Bringing people together is one of the key goals of the whole Baltic Warriors project, and if we can do a little larp evangelizing on the side, that’s good too. Because of this, I was happy to see that approximately one third of our players had never larped before. We’d been warned that the actual experts we invited to participate in the post-game panel discussion probably wouldn’t want to play, but in the end every single one did.

(The game is in full swing as some characters listen to speeches given by the politicians, activists and lobbyists, while othets write news articles and make backroom deals)

As in every Baltic Warriors game, eventually the zombies will attack. In the fiction of the game, eutrophication causes the undead to rise from the Dead Zones of the Baltic Sea. The style of the game changes, and debate turns into action as the characters try to save themselves.

This time the action was so fast, we had trouble following it with our cameras.

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(A zombie hangs back as the participants do a debrief round after the game has ended)

Non-Digital: Mechanics Against Character Immersion

In my last post, I complained about the lack of published game systems conductive to tabletop roleplaying with a focus on character immersion. I said that the kind of roleplaying that I like the best seems difficult to put into a published book.

In this post, I’ll attempt to elaborate on the kind of play that to me is ideal with examples, good and bad, from published games.

Vampires

I started roleplaying with Dungeons & Dragons, but the whole thing really started to click for me when I discovered Vampire: the Masquerade. Especially in the second edition core books and the Vampire supplements of that era, the game had a street level focus. A lot of attention was paid to the player characters and who they were. The books brimmed with advice about mood and theme.

I sixteen at the time, so we had our share of vampires with katanas. Still, the game encouraged social stuff like status games in the vampire community, love, and mentor characters. This was great. Finally a game where we play out social situations while being other people.

Unfortunately Vampire also has systems that are pure poison for character-based play of the type I love, and we spent a lot of energy dodging those systems. At that age, I didn’t have the understanding or confidence just to cut them out.

The worst offender is the idea of Blood Bond, a supernaturally enfored love that is imposed on those who drink from a given vampire too many times. The Blood Bond strikes the closest and most meaningful relationships a character has and replaces them with a supernaturally stagnant, emotionally sterile, fundamentally boring force. The Blood Bond is poison because it neutralizes all organic emotional change.

Vampire and other White Wolf games have plenty of similar superpowers that affect a character emotionally or mentally. I’ve found that when playing in this kind of a game, holding onto character consistency sometimes requires a lot of work and serious game mechanical investment into every relevant immunity that can protect the character from in-game forces that would lead to a loss of character integrity on a metagame level.

The Engine

So what do I do when I play a game like this?

Normally, when I create a character, I use two tools. One is Markus Montola’s framework of enabling and disabling characteristics, where enabling characteristics (impulsive, helpful, outgoing) help the character to engage with her surroundings and disabling characteristics (shy, reclusive, distrustful) keep the character away from play.

The other tool is perhaps the more important one, and generates the core of the character. This is the character’s central contradiction, or preferably contradictions. The character is selfish and likes to help people, she’s superficial and loves classical culture, she wants fame but needs to keep her integrity. Juggling these qualities then becomes the engine that moves the character forward, and helps me know how she’ll react to a situation in a game.

Keeping the character’s engine running in my head and coming up with surprising, interesting and logical reactions, initiatives and ideas is central as I experience the world through the character in emotional terms. After a while, the character’s engine becomes second nature, and I can reflect on the things that happen around me from this specific perspective.

The result is often extremely emotionally compelling. There’s bleed all over the place. This is helped enormously by good co-players who’re also playing in a way that resonates with emotional truth. The game is subtle, nuanced and resonates with its own reality.

How to Play

In most of the games I’ve played in or ran, the game mechanics exist to regulate and support the kind of play described above, but they don’t generate it. They just fix some of the problems that arise.

A simple one is the way we as players become so invested in the success of our characters, the drama needs mechanics for us to sometimes fail.

The mechanics can also provide another flavor of enjoyment. Fighting using mechanics can be fun, but it’s not the kind of core fun I roleplay for. Perhaps for this reason, the mechanics present in the best social gameplay of my career have been practically non-existent. Just a bunch of people improvising in a room, guided by a game master.

There’s something very traditional about this kind of character based play, especially in terms of how it relates to the role of the game master. This is especially apparent when I look at modern American story games, often descended from the Forge scene.

These types of games often have a collaborative storytelling aspect, a more collective distribution of game master functions, and interesting metagame mechanics that allow situations to be resolved in different ways. They’re also often very playable, in the sense that you can experience a game with a bunch of friends without massive amounts of preparation.

My experiences with these games have been positive and I often recommend them to people. But so far, I haven’t played a game that would really support what I want. One core reason is that the kind of social play I enjoy is essentially unregulated by designed systems. It’s emergent and messy. In some ways, it depends on being able to radically change the content or the direction of the game on the fly.

Sometimes when playing these games, I feel like a boffer larper in a Vampire game: It’s great and all, but where’s my sword?

Most of all, the game’s mechanics simply can’t fuck with the integrity of my character.

Beyond the System

So how to make published games, how to write a book that would describe the kind of play I find ideal?

One core idea would be to consider what’s the role of game design and what’s the role of the emergent social gameplay and creativity of the participants. How to communicate extremely light social systems that depend on flexibility.

From a system design point of view this kind of play is conservative: I’m not trying to revolutionize the field. I’m quite happy with the tools I have. I would merely like to be able to communicate them better.

After all, campaigns of this type I’ve played in, like Jaakko Stenros’s Lohkeileva kynsilakka (Cracking Nail Varnish), Mike Pohjola’s Tähti (Star) and Maria Pettersson’s St Catherine have been some of the best and most defining experiences of my life.

Maybe these also highlight the problem. None of them are based on published games.